The first line of the Prayer of St. Francis says, â€œLord, make me an instrument of your peace.â€
This prayer is the mission statement and title of the latest project from the family group, the Sharps. Hailing from Fort Payne, Ala., these men of faith are dedicated to spreading the gospel through song.
Andy Sharp and his son, Ben, lead the group as co-owners, carrying on the the legacy of Joel Sharp, the founder of the quartet.
â€œThe Sharps is a family-based group that started in 1984 by Joel Sharp,â€ Ben shares. â€œJoel, having sung with gospel groups as early as the 50s, formed the Sharps that consisted of him, Andy and Janice Sharp, and Karen Sharp Twilley and her husband LaDon.
â€œBen, son of Andy and Janice, was born and raised traveling with the group, and Mike (Leath) stepped in to ï¬ll in for Joel due to his illness and has continued on with the group after the passing of Joel Sharp.â€
The current lineup features the lead vocals of Mike Leath, the soaring tenor of Andy Sharp (son of Joel), and rounding out the trio, Ben Sharpâ€™s smooth baritone. For the past three years, Tony Lewis served as the bass vocalist, but he recently resigned.
Andy Sharp is the only original member still with the group. Leath was hand-picked by Joel Sharp to fill in for him during his illness. He has now been with the quartet for 11 years. Ben Sharp grew up traveling with the group and has played piano, drums and served many other roles as well.
The group has experienced great success over their 30-plus years. They have recorded more than 20 projects, have been honored with several awards, and several (of their) songs have charted on national gospel music charts. Andy Sharp has been honored with a lifetime achievement award in 2016 for his 30 years in Southern gospel music. The groupâ€™s unique sound was inspired by the Florida Boys of 1962, Glen Payne, Brian Free, Arthur Rice, and of course, Joel Sharp.
This group, steeped in Southern gospel tradition, shines on their latest CD release, â€œInstrument of Peace.â€
Andy is proud of this album.
â€œâ€˜Instrument of Peaceâ€™ is a collection of songs with powerful words,â€ Andy Sharp explains. â€œRegardless of the situation or struggle in a personâ€™s life, there is a song with a message of hope and encouragement that will, without a doubt, touch the heart.
â€œ(Itâ€™s) incredible music and powerful lyrics. We feel after recording over 20 projects since 1985, â€˜Instrument of Peaceâ€™ is by far the most powerful one we have recorded as a group.â€
Some of these powerful lyrics are found in â€œStanding in the Storm,â€ which is also the current radio single.
â€œâ€˜Standing in the Stormâ€™ was the very ï¬rst song pitched to us for our new project,â€ Andy Sharp explains. â€œUpon hearing the very ï¬rst verse, I knew it was a song I wanted to do. It has a very strong message that, no matter what age, everyone can relate to. It quickly became one of our favorite songs off this CD.
â€œWe have received incredible feedback on this song since its release from numerous people who have shared with us how this song and the message it shares has helped them through lifeâ€™s struggles, and that is what itâ€™s all about.â€
The Sharps share this message wherever they can. Though they mainly perform in a five-state area in the Southeast, the group travels full-time.
The mix of youth and experience makes the group engaging for people of all ages.
â€œPeople attend concerts for different reasons, and everyone, regardless of age, has something in their life â€“ a storm, a struggle or a searching for peace and hope that is a part of them when they walk in,â€ Andy Sharp shares.
â€œWe hope that while attending a concert of ours, not only do people have a fun time of worship but that in some way they are ministered to and leave with a feeling of encouragement or peace. That is our main purpose in doing what we do, and making new friends along the way is a huge plus.â€
Over its storied career, the group has had many special and meaningful fan meetings.
â€œIn the early 90s, we were part of a beneï¬t for an 11-year-old girl with terminal cancer,â€ Andy Sharp explains. â€œThe night of the beneï¬t, we received word she was sent home from the hospital with no hope, being told there was nothing more that could be done for her.
â€œIn the mid-2000s, while talking with people after a concert in Trussville, Ala., a young lady approached me, along with her husband, holding her baby and asked if I remembered her. Of course, I didnâ€™t and asked if I should. Becoming tearful, she told us she was the 11-year-old girl from the beneï¬t we did in the mid 90s. She shared with us that from that night on, God started to heal her.â€
Experiences like this truly put things into perspective. Ben recalls another memorable moment in their career.
â€œEach and every person we meet is so very important to us, but the most memorable moment was at Popâ€™s (Joel Sharpâ€™s) funeral,â€ Ben Sharp recalls. â€œA woman approached Dad and I afterwards and shared with us how, as a young girl, she was saved while listening to the Sharps. Later in life, she had fallen away from God, and during her darkest hour, she came across an old cassette of the Sharps. While listening to a song featuring Pops, she rededicated her life back to God.
â€œEncounters like this remind us why we do what we do. While we may not know of every person God reaches through us, He knows when we ourselves need a word of encouragement. He sends them at just the right time to keep us from being discouraged and to continue doing what we do; to be a vessel for Him to use and reach others through, what we believe, is the most incredible music in the world, Southern gospel.â€
The future is looking bright for this ministry-minded family group.
â€œGod has really opened up some big doors for us this year,â€ Ben Sharp points out. â€œWe hope that our fans and new fans see a reinvented version of the Sharps like theyâ€™ve never seen before. While we continue with the same message and the same purpose, we hope to reach more people than ever before.
â€œWe are excited to be on this journey He has put us on, and we canâ€™t wait to share His message through the incredible songs He has given us. We sincerely and humbly ask for prayers as we continue to go and share with others the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.â€
By Justin Gilmore. First published by SGNSCOOPS Magazine in May 2018.
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